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ASK THE STAFF

November/December 2013

Community engagement is an IASB work in progress
By Linda Dawson

The question for this issue is answered by Linda Dawson, IASB director/ editorial services and Journal editor.

Question: In early September, our board president and the superintendent received a memo from IASB Executive Director Roger Eddy and an executive summary of a report on community engagement. How can we learn more in order to get started?

Answer: Your next opportunity will occur at Joint Annual Conference in November. IASB staff who worked on this report will present a panel session at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, November 23, in the Columbus E/F Ballroom, Hyatt East Tower.

The full report is online at https://www.iasb.com/training/connecting.cfm in both a pdf and digital format.

Meanwhile, IASB staff are beginning to develop regional and in-district workshops to support member school boards interested in pursuing this work. Much care and preparation are going into the next steps that will bring community engagement processes and tools to member school districts in Illinois.

The purpose of this report, “Connecting with the Community: the Purpose and Process of Community Engagement as part of Effective School Board Governance,” is to help school boards and superintendents understand what community engagement is, why it is critical, what boards can expect to accomplish, and how to evaluate the results.

Why are we doing this? Quite frankly we are very concerned about what happens when or if school boards don’t engage in this vital work. Public education and boards of education in the United States are under attack. State and federal education agencies are demanding more of local schools. The stakes in student performance on mandated testing are rising. State and federal lawmakers are putting strings on education funding as an incentive to change. Corporations and their privately funded think tanks and philanthropic organizations are crusading for “education reforms.” And communities whose taxpayers are straining under tightening household budgets and higher property taxes are questioning the return on investment for their education tax dollars.

School board members who are elected to represent these communities know that meeting ever-increasing demands for accountability is a difficult job. But the general public does not understand how these attacks threaten the very existence of public education and local school governance. That’s why efforts to take back and retain local control must come from an engaged community. Frank discussions about what communities expect from their schools are valuable, but of equal importance is what the community is willing to support to meet those expectations. Who better to connect with the community over local issues of education than school board members? Who better to connect with the community over local issues of education than school board members? Who better to address the problems in education than elected community members who are most aware of the problems?

This effort begins with the local governance team — school board and superintendent.

With the aid of effective and ongoing community engagement, we believe that the district governing team is in the best position to determine how resources are invested and delivered. This new report provides a strong foundation that will begin the process of enabling school boards to take back and retain the control that so many are trying to take away from local school districts and their communities. Community engagement is not easy work, nor can it be done quickly. In fact just as the community engagement process itself must be well-planned and nurtured over an extended period of time, the preparation of materials for district governing teams to use will take time to develop and explain, so think of both community engagement and its tools as processes rather than single events, The work is important but the payoff can be tremendous.

If you have any questions regarding the report or the work of community engagement, please contact Cathy Talbert, IASB associate executive director for field services and policy services at ctalbert@iasb.com or by calling either 630/629-3940 or 217/528-9688, ext. 1234.

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